Conflicts and confluence: Emmanuel Eni finds his level

(First published in The Nation on Wednesday, September 12, 2007) eni_portrait.jpgEssential Eni

 eni-4.jpgDrummer boy

enis-curator-3.jpgDeath of the Curator performance

 eni-0.jpgCover of the drama 

The Nigerian Diaspora is not a small community. Emmanuel Eni is one of them. Eni who turned forty last Sunday is a Germany-based artist whose works reflect the contradictions and resolutions of a Nigerian who has to settle in a strange land as The Nation Group Editor (Arts and Culture) SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE reports

Tall, black and muscular, Emmanuel Eni is the poster image of the Black man. His works depict strength and boldness.Take Elephant as an example. It is sculpture made of reinforced concrete. The central amateur was constructed from iron and steel. Many different sizes of rods and pipes were cut, bent, twisted and bound with industrial binding wires the form took shape. After this, the whole body was bound and wrapped with small and large industrial mesh. The four legs were then cast in concrete followed by systematic modelling of the rest parts of the body. This was done with a finer aggregate of grey high-alumina cement and sand.The internal metal construction has an approximated weight of 4,000 kilograms, the reinforced cement brings its total approximated weight to 18,000 kilograms. Measuring 3.5 by 2.5 by 10 metres, where it stands on the German street, it dwarfs other objects nearby.Eni is a sculptor. But he is more than that. A native of Igbanke in Edo State, he was born on September 9, 1967. He studied fine arts at the University of Nigeria Nsukka and obtained a Masters degree in Sculpture in England. A poet, playwright and stage performer, Eni lives in Berlin with his German wife and children.Black Man in European Kitchen. The title itself betrays the conflict the work was all about. It is a recital poem the Eni performed at the Goethe Institut – the German cultural centre – in Lagos early this year. The theme of blending into a society so different from that in which one was raised is common in his works.When Eni took to the streets in Berlin, it was to cry for resolution of the Middle East crisis. Entitled Israel and Palestine, the performance was built around poetry, dance, drama and exhibition. At the end he wrapped the flags of Israel and Palestine signalling dreamed of brotherly cohabitation of the duelling duo.From Niyi Osundare to Olu Oguibe, E. C. Osondu, Ogaga Ifowodo to Victor Ehikhamenor, Sola Osofisan to Nduka Otiono and Sanya Osha, the Nigerian Diaspora is scattered abroad like the biblical children of Israel. They are creative minds whose artistic outputs show what conflicts they have to live with.Emmanuel Eni is a product of this contradiction. Just as Victor Ehikhamenor does with colours, Eni’s works are bold assertions of the Black man’s identity. When he chose to construct a leaf sculpture, he made it rise 7.2 metres tall. Hamburger is stuffed with human beings. It is an acrylic on latex on canvas painting that speaks of a system that squeezes life out of people. White Killing Black is a 2002 painting in which a White man’s pointed nose pierces the forehead of a Black man. The White man appropriately has Nazi logo painted on him in red.The essential Emmanuel Eni as a sculptor and painting manifest in his poetry. Take this: Every light/brings/a new spirit/and it lives/despite man. His last performance in Germany was an artistic indictment of curators and their roles as middle men in the art world. Emmanuel Eni argues that the people would have better access to works of art if the middle man is removed. It was an exhibition and a performance. A 14-metre limousine stuffed with art was used in a Performance from the newly published drama. Apart from the works in the limousine others were thrown here and there on the road side. There the performance of the drama took place. Entitled Death of the Curator, the poetic drama was written in rich expression meant to be accompanied by music and dance.Eni has been actively exhibiting since 1987. He has exhibited in Africa, Europe and America.Olu Amoda is a renown Nigerian painter and arts teacher. Ndidi Dike is a famous sculptor. Segun Adefila is a dramatist and theatre director. Throw in a couple of dancers and drummers and you begin to wonder what they were meant to produce. Others included Liadi Adedayo, Ayo Aina, Njideka Eke, Adetona Gboyega, Chuka Nnabuife, Tola Nwokedi, Joseph O. Olaniran, Mike Omoighe and Ben Osaghae.When the came together at Goethe Institut in Lagos on Monday, July 9, it was not until the first break that they got to introduce themselves. It was the beginning of a five-day workshop of blending all sorts of artistic expressions to create a presentation scheduled for Saturday, July 14. Essentially there was no script. Each artiste was expected to bring in a small script the following day. Blunting the lines that divide different art forms, these Nigerian artists put up a glorious show entitled characterLAGOStika. It was basically a reflection of what life is in the city.CharakterLAGOStika was a melting pot of facets of creation underlining the energetic life of the estimated 15 million populated metropolis Lagos. This theme included commerce, globalisation, urban congestion, music, crime, drama, etc. On Saturday July 14, the results of the workshop was presented to the Lagos art scene and interested public. The night also featured a live presentation of Emmanuel Eni’s new performance titled Do You Love Machine?

Emmanuel Eni, at forty, is a symbol of the new frontiers of artistic expression. At the same time, he is a symbol of the Nigerian artistic Diaspora seeking to find meaning out there in strange lands.

“Both here and there are homes,” he told The Nation last July. He does not deny discrimination and racism. Be he believes he has found a balance. His painted face on stage, his artistic displays are those of a true African. He is uprooted yet deeply rooted in his culture. In the conflict of cultures and interests, a new cultural and artistic personality has emerged.

No doubt, Eni believes in this conflict that Black will emerge the winner. He does not say so in words but in artistic expressions. Bold images and expressions he uses to preach his message. He dresses bold and displays his dreadlocks without apologies.

Of his earliest contact with art, he said, “I was first greatly inspired at the age of five, probably earlier, when I visited an exhibition in the company of one of members of my family. Who I do not remember.”

Whoever the person was, he or she has given us one of the best arts ambassadors of this land rich in artistic outpourings.

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